Israeli peace activist Abie Nathan is planning to set up a shelter for fleeing Somali refugees on the Kenyan side of the border.
Nathan, who has twice served jail sentences for meeting with Yasir Arafat and other officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Wednesday that the Kenyan government and U.N. authorities have given him permission to set up a reception camp for 20,000 refugees escaping starvation and civil war in Somalia. In a telephone interview with Israel Radio from Kenya, he said chaos in Somalia prevented him from setting up the camp in that country.
“Somalia has completely broken down as a state. There’s no law there, no order, no food or medical aid, and no hope.
“The only thing there is are as many arms as anyone could dream of, in the possession of four warring armies fighting each other and the local population.”
He said arms were coming from both the West and the former Eastern bloc.
“Emergency food remains in the ports. It is stolen as soon as it leaves the ships and never reaches its intended beneficiaries,” Nathan said.
He said he would outfit the camp with tents and beds or mattresses, especially with an eye to accommodating children. Refugees will be registered and given food and medical aid.
He described the situation in Somalia as “beyond anything we humans could believe.
“The pictures on television, however horrible they are, show only a fraction of the truth,” he said.
He said he had as yet been unable to put a price tag on the cost of his humanitarian efforts. “But I am certain I will obtain the funds needed, as I have always managed during all my humanitarian efforts over the past 25 years – from the world Jewish community, and especially the Jews of Israel and the U.S., as well as elsewhere.”
Nathan is a veteran of aiding the hungry. In 1985, he brought $250,000 in aid to Ethiopia and built a refugee camp there within eight days. He outfitted it with a doctor, electricity, water and food.
Nathan’s largess and deep pockets do not only come from proceeds from his Voice of Peace floating radio broadcast ship. From that he donated $5,000 to Ethiopian relief.
Nathan, now 64, made a million dollars from a restaurant in Tel Aviv, the Californian. He pioneered in bringing the hamburger and ravioli to Israel, and his efforts were successful.
In the 1960s, he made five trips to Biafra and helped raise $1.5 million for food and medical aid for that secessionist region of Nigeria, which was embroiled in a 31-month civil war.
He also flew to the Cambodian border and gave $1.5 million in donations from Israelis to the refugees. And he aided Lebanese refugees and earthquake victims in Central America.
The Iranian-born Nathan, who was raised in India, said he would try to return to Somalia on Thursday. He said Somalis are dying daily after eating grass or any piece of leather they can find, or even chewing the skins of dead animals.
“They get diarrhea and just die in the thousands,” he said.